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[Page 144]

The Cemetery

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Ruth Yoseffa Erez

The cemetery is part of the community. It serves as a live testimony to the history of the community from the beginning. It is as old as the community is.

The first Jewish settlers in our town bought a piece of land and sanctified it for a cemetery. They dug graves and put tombstones on them on which they engraved the name of the deceased and a summary of his life and achievements.

In between vegetable gardens and fields of grains, in the south western corner of the town, to the right of “Riska” street, on a hill surrounded by a stone wall there was our cemetery. A wide gate stood at the entrance, on it was written: “Tzedakah (charity) saves from death”. To the right of the gate stood the undertaker's apartment. Opposite it to the left there were the “Tahara” (purity) rooms.

In the cemetery the old was mixed with the new. Right next to the entrance on the right side, there were a few middle sized structures with tombstones inside them. Those were family graves of the rich and prominent Jews, called “shtibalach”. Around them were hundreds of years old tombstones, deep in the ground, crooked and covered with grass and mold. The letters were erased by the rain, the wind and the time. In between those tombs were bushes.

As we withdrew farther away from the cemetery entrance the tombstones became straight and the writing clear. That is where the new part began. There were tombstones from our time, big white stone with engraved letters, familiar names.

There was a custom in the “Israeli house”: mass visits to the cemetery in the month of Elul. During the early hours of the morning, many visitors came in. The cantor would eulogize and sing “el male rachamim” and the visitors would hand out donations to the poor. Of course people would also visit the place during the year on memorial days and also just to “pour their hearts out” in this holy place.

 

Ber144.jpg

 

[Page 145]

During WWI the cemetery was harmed. For months, the front between the Austrian and the Russian armies was inside the town, and the Austrian army dug its trenches around the cemetery. From this action and from the artillery shells, the graves, the tombstones and part of the wall suffered heavy damages. In the years between the two world wars, the Jewish community rehabilitated the cemetery. It was Baruch (Boozia) Stark that took the job upon him and fulfilled it completely. He cleaned the cemetery, rehabilitated the tombstones and fixed the wall. During the Soviet rule, all the activities of the Jewish community ceased to exist including the supervision of the cemetery. The Germans and their helpers utilized the cemetery and were responsible for thousands of victims, some in single graves and some in mass graves. They uprooted tombstones and used them to build roads and buildings and ruined the cemetery. When we returned to the town with the Soviet army in 1944, the few of us who stayed alive would visit the lonely and broken cemetery and commune with the memory of the holy victims. May those who dwell in it rest in peace.

 

Ber145a.jpg
Old tombstones in Brzezany's Jewish cemetery:

 

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A tombstone from the beginning of the 19th century
(photocopied from the book ZYDZI W POLSCE ODROCZONEJ)
Old Tombstone from 1643 (Hebrew year of 5403)

 

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